Women have made huge strides in their pursuit of higher education and now earn more associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees than men. Yet they remain noticeably absent from STEM careers despite strong job growth in the past decade and solid projections for continued growth. There’s a lot of incentive: according to Forbes, careers in STEM industries offer better compensation and more career advancement opportunities. In fact, women who hold STEM positions earn 92 cents to the dollar versus 77 cents for women in other fields.
Yet the STEM workforce in the U.S. remains 74% male.
By 2022, the U.S. will need more than 9 million STEM professionals to fill projected job openings. With only 18% of bachelor’s degrees conferred in core STEM subjects, the talent gap is huge. Clearly, given women’s academic accomplishments, it’s not a lack of ability. The female pioneers in STEM careers were determined to forge ahead despite discrimination, they were helped by the demand for experts during World War II, when men were drafted or enlisted, for top-secret research projects. Americans recognized that science and scientists were valuable, and opportunities opened up for women.
While women have broken a lot of barriers, there are still barriers in pursuing STEM careers. An article in the New York Times by a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Yale is a disturbing revelation, illustrating why even women who receive STEM degrees may not pursue careers in these fields or stay in STEM professions. There are obstacles all along the way starting in childhood with “scientists as geeks” stereotypes discouraging all but the most determined. In other cultures, a gift for math is often seen as demonstrating that a person is intuitive and creative. Sadly, this is not the case in the U.S. and it needs to change, fast.
The Million Women Mentors program is designed to create the radical paradigm shift we need to encourage young women to pursue STEM careers. By creating all-inclusive pathway from early childhood and early education, elementary school, middle school, high school through higher education, and early career, they can be mentored at every step to reach their full potential. And, since only 41% of the women who enter the workforce continue in the same kind of job 10 years later, we need to sustain them during their early career phase, through one-on-one mentoring, online support, internships and on-the-job shadowing. Sponsorships are even better, which involve supporting and championing women through their early career to help them advance.
To achieve this goal, people from all different industry sectors are needed: from public sector, as well as entrepreneurs. By mobilizing a million men and women to sign up and pledge as mentors, a pool of people can be created who can be paired up with young girls and women. Everyone benefits when our youth can make full use of their abilities and supporting STEM education is a clear win-win.
Participate in the discussion! How do you mobilize women in the workplace?
Lorna Donatone is the CEO of Sodexo Schools Worldwide and a strong advocate for the new performance frontier: Quality of Life. Ms. Donatone believes that student well-being is key to better performance in the classroom, on the playing fields and in the community.